I recently participated as a volunteer/attendee at a food-oriented consumer show and have summarized a handful of vendor marketing do’s and don’ts, based on first-hand observations.
Who would have thought that my volunteer gig at Appetite for Awareness would have resulted in a series of marketing lessons. Appetite for Awareness, dubbed a “Gluten-Free Cooking Spree,” was a B2C trade show held in Philadelphia on September 23, 2012. Put on by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), the event was an opportunity for the gluten-free community to meet face-to-face with local chefs, restaurants, breweries, bakeries and other food and product manufacturers promoting a gluten-free lifestyle. Attendees paid $50 in advance or $75 at the door to sample food and drink and access information, see cooking demos and participate in contests and other trade show-like activities.
As a vendor in such a situation, it’s important to think in advance how to make an lasting positive impression on your audience – in this case, trade-show attendees. And that often means to “think different.” Below are some key marketing lessons that were reinforced by my observations, complete with examples from the day.
- Do have a system in place to collect contact information from visitors who stop by your booth. Collect names and contact information, whether using a simple yellow legal pad or a nicely designed and printed form. At minimum, get the names and email addresses of your booth visitors. People have just sampled and enjoyed your food, and are making mental notes to visit your restaurant for a special occasion or next week’s business lunch or next time they’re in the area. But…why not take advantage of their tickled taste buds and solicit their contact information. That way, you can contact them when YOU have something going on…such as a new Gluten-Free menu item, a slow night, a special event, or any other time you have a restaurant to fill.
- Don’t limit your customer interactions to only those customers who stop by your booth. When you have groups of people congregating, it’s easy to have “roadblocks.” And Appetite for Awareness was no exception. The food was good! People were piling up in line to sample all the delectable delights. But the line wasn’t moving. People were stuck. What a good time for a vendor to approach people standing in a not-moving line, to take their minds off of the wait by handing them a nutrition bar, beer sample, etc. Kudos to the reps for ThinkTHIN protein bars: These smart ladies got out from behind their booth, walked a few inches to the people in a stationary line and placed a lanyard with a fitness bar over their heads.
- Do give booth visitors a reason or incentive to interact with your business after the show. Several show vendors took the initiative to provide a handout that was designed to encourage visitors to connect with them after the show ended. These varied. For example, Caffé Gelato provided a notice of their hosting an upcoming festival; Ristorante Panorama provided a coupon for a free glass of wine for show attendees; and Sazon provided a postcard promoting a new Gluten-Free brunch on Saturdays. I love coupons. I especially love coupons that save me money at places where I already plan to shop. These vendors gave me an incentive to visit them…and those handouts are keepers for when I’m planning my schedule or in their neighborhood.
- Give samples…for later! At a food festival where everyone is trying a bit of everything, what a clever idea to give food samples for later, when the people aren’t being bombarded with competing sensory opportunities.
- Don’t neglect branding in your giveaways. Make sure your giveaway or takeaway includes your company logo or contact information. I took home a sample of the most delicious granola. It was nicely packaged in a plastic fast-food-type salad dressing container. But when I was ready to try it out, I realized that the container was not marked. And my overloaded memory was not up to identifying which of the booths had provided it. A simple sticker (with product name and URL) would have been a big step in alleviating my lack of information.
Numerous restaurants had menus to hand out at the same time we sampled their delicious food. What a great idea…I can keep a file of menus and when I’m hungry, just call to order or make a reservation. The only problem was, in the abundance of trade show handouts we were given, some neglected to print the name, phone number or URL of their restaurant on their menu inserts. So while I would like to call and order “Rum Cured Duck Breast,” I have no idea who to call. Keep in mind that a marketing piece should stand on its own and easily can with simple restaurant branding.
- Do provide show attendees with a quick, memorable and easy way to interact with your business after the show. Give magnets, not business cards. I got so many business cards at the show. At least 100. Which would have been nice, but the NFCA had already published a handy binder listing show participants. So a business card is not really providing me with any additional information. BUT for just a small additional investment, you could have given me a business card magnet. Which, if nicely designed, I would proudly display on my file cabinet or refrigerator for quick access to a number to call when my taste buds need a fix.
- Do figure out a way to make your business stand out at a crowded show. So, at Appetite for Awareness, who stood out the most? Who won’t I forget? Well, a couple of vendors, for sure. One was the vendor whose service solved a pain point for me, and whose product I didn’t realize even existed until I met them at the show. This was Find Me Gluten Free, who provided a free iphone app that located gluten-free vendors based on zip code. Oh, how useful this would have been during my recent visit to Richmond, VA, where gluten-free dinner places were hard to identify. Another was ThinkThin, who provided a large branded bag for attendees to carry all their goodies in. Further, they provided everyone who approached their booth with a protein bar on a lanyard, so people who wore them acted as walking billboards for the product.
How can you make the most of your next trade show marketing efforts? Contact us for a trade show marketing consultation.